Published in Proceedings of the 2004 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition: Salt Lake City, UT, June 1, 2004. 11 pages. Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education. Publisher website: http://www.asee.org.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Trevor Harding was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
According to studies conducted over the past four decades, engineering students self-report high frequencies of academic dishonesty (cheating) while in college. Research on college students in all fields has indicated that such behavior is more common among students who participate in academic dishonesty at the high school level and that it is correlated with other deviant or unethical behaviors, such as petty theft and lying. If, in fact, such correlations do exist, one might hypothesize that there is also a relationship between academic dishonesty in college and deviant or unethical behavior in professional practice. Placing this relationship in the context of higher frequencies of academic dishonesty among engineering students only increases the seriousness of the problem for engineering educators, corporations and society.
To examine this issue we have initiated a multi-university study on the attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of college-aged engineering students toward academic dishonesty and unethical professional behavior. A majority of the students in the sample work for a considerable period of time in an engineering setting during their college years, providing us with a unique opportunity to study the connection between academic dishonesty and professional behavior within the same sample of individuals. The survey used in this study asks questions about the respondent’s decisions during opportunities to “cheat” in each of two contexts: college classrooms and workplace settings. In each case, respondents are asked to consider what opportunities to cheat presented themselves, whether they felt any pressure to cheat (or not to cheat), and ultimately what decision they made in this specific instance. The survey also asks respondents to report how frequently they have cheated in school or the workplace.
Results suggest that there is a clear connection between cheating in high school and a positive decision to cheat in a specific scenario in college. In addition, frequent cheaters in high school also reported being more likely to decide to violate work place policies. Comparison of student responses to the pressures and hesitations to cheating across the contexts of academic and workplace settings shows that there are distinct similarities in the variables that are a part of the decision making processes used by respondents in these two
Materials Science and Engineering